Werners became first family of Steamboat


— If any family has ever approached the status of royalty in Steamboat Springs, it is the Werner family, said longtime family friend Rod Hanna.

Their story is a classic American one, a story of the West and the creation of the West as it stands today.

The Werners were one of the early ranching families in the Yampa Valley.

The family was parented by Ed "Pop" Werner and Hazel Mae "Hazie" Werner.

"Hazie's father drove the Hahn's Peak-Wolcott stagecoach," Hanna said. "That goes back to the early part of the last century."

Though neither Ed nor Hazie skied themselves, they raised three Olympians who propelled the family into the international spotlight.

Though their youngest son, Loris Werner, better known to the world as "Bugs," was instrumental in the development of the Steamboat Ski Resort, and was an Olympic skier, the local fame of his family name came from his brother and sister, he said.

"I think it all stems back to Buddy and Skeeter," Loris said. "When they were competing in their heyday, they were the best male and female skiers in the world."

The United States didn't have many other outstanding skiers at the time, Werner said. "There was not a lot of support for skiing back then."

Wallace "Buddy" Werner, Gladys "Skeeter" Werner and Loris "Bugs" Werner all grew up in Steamboat and learned to ski on tiny, one lift Howelsen Hill.

"I've skied since I can remember," said Loris Werner, now 62. "I started when I was 2 and competed for the first time when I was 4."

Hazie Werner worked at the grocery store and at Howelsen's hot dog stand to make sure her kids had the financial means to compete, Hanna said.

"They came from a hardscrabble background," he said. "There were no U.S. Ski Team programs to help young skiers (like those) that exist today."

"The thing that was amazing for them is that they did it on their own," Loris Werner said. "They proved to young kids in Steamboat and throughout Colorado that if you had the heart to do it, you could.

"And, of course, Buddy was loved by the world," he said. "He was loved by the international ski community because of his attitude. He was such a humble person."

Hazie watched her children travel the world on skis, but didn't try skiing herself until she was 65, said Loris Werner.

"Steamboat had what they now call the Local's Program," he said. "We talked her into trying it. She had this little power wedge and she skied it nonstop. We just skied behind her to keep people from running into her."

Hazie Werner passed away at 82 years old.

"She skied two days prior," said Loris Werner.

Pop Werner skied more in the rancher's tradition.

"I call him the original wide tractor," Werner said. "He had total rancher survival technique on skis."

Hazie Werner was famous for something other then racing downhill and flying off jumps. She was known for her kitchen.

"Hazie was mother to everyone," said Loris Werner. "As an example, when Colorado Mountain College was first beginning, the kind of people that came were misfits in the community. Steamboat didn't really welcome them, but they were welcome at Hazie's."

It was nothing to have 40 people at the dinner table on a holiday, Werner said. "Some of them you might know and some of them you might not know, but they were all treated as family."

"Hazie's kitchen was famous," Hanna said. "One year, over 2,000 people had eaten dinner at the Werner home."

The family also organized an annual Labor Day pack trip into the wilderness surrounding Steamboat.

"Hazie and Pop and the kids started that," Hanna said. "And when Doak Walker (the football Hall of Famer who married Skeeter) came, it became a bigger thing. Sometimes 30 people would come. "The family was really outgoing," he said. "They always greeted people with open arms."

In the 1970s and 1980s, Hanna said, a lot of celebrities were drawn to town by the Werner family connection. Members of the Kennedy family, Clint Eastwood and Frank Gifford were a few.

And they had a place to ski, thanks to work done by members of the community and the three Werner children to open a world-class ski area on Storm Mountain.

In March 1958, Loris and Buddy helped friends Jim Temple and Merle Nash scout out runs on Storm Mountain.

The area officially opened for business on Jan. 12,1963, when the double chair, named Bear Claw, began running. Ed and Buddy Werner helped operate the lift, and Skeeter Werner sold tickets.

Buddy and Skeeter Werner opened the first ski shop at the base of the mountain.

In 1964, Buddy was killed in an avalanche in Switzerland. The Town Council and later the U.S. Department of the Interior were persuaded to change the name of Storm Mountain to Mount Werner. "They wanted to do something to honor Buddy," said Loris Werner.


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